Page 130: sale, capital of the gippsland region

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Until we came to Victoria I was a bit vague about the location of Gippsland. In case you are as geographically challenged as I, the map on the right will help.

The Great Dividing Range, which runs down the eastern seaboard of Australia, bends west towards Melbourne at its southern end. Gippsland is the coastal strip between those mountains and the sea. It stretches from the N.S.W. border in the east almost to Melbourne in the west.

Gippsland was named after Sir George Gipps (1791 - 1847). He was Governor of New South Wales for eight years from 1837.

  sale, capital of gippsland, victoria  

Originally named Flooding Creek, this town of 13,000 souls came into being in 1840 when Archibald McIntosh set up a forge, store and butcher's shop, making Flooding Creek a settlement. Ten years later it was renamed Sale after General Sir Robert Sale, known for his part in the first Afghan war.

Due to the famous Swing Bridge (pictured and described below) and a short length of canal joining the Thompson River to the town, Sale became an important port for both coastal and lakes steam boat traffic. These days Sale is home to the Roulettes, the RAAF aerobatic team.

  Cicadas by the thousand  

Cicada; pronounced: sick ardour or sick aida Plural: cicadas or cicadae

Most Aussies will be familiar with the chirping of hundreds of cicadas in the tree tops but did you know that there are 220 varieties of cicada in Australia alone and two to three thousand varieties world wide? Some varieties live for up to seventeen years.

While setting up the caravan in Sale I noticed scores of circular holes in the ground around the spot that we had parked the 'van. My first thought was that someone had gone mad hammering in tent pegs but the position of the holes was not consistent with that theory. Next I suspected ants' nests but the quantity of displaced grit around the holes ruled that out too; there wasn't enough.

  One of many mysterious holes in the ground around our new camp site.  

Light didn't dawn until the following morning when I found a cicada on a tree trunk. Or was it . . . ?

  The critter I saw on the tree trunk. (I've rotated the picture to fit better, the trunk was vertical.)  

Well, yes and no. In fact, it was the empty husk a cicada had discarded when it moulted, changing from the larval to the adult stage. Cicadas don't seem to have a pupal stage like a butterfly where the chrysalis remains motionless for some time while the caterpillar metamorphoses into a butterfly.

But how did the young adult escape?

  Three more empty husks. Note that each has a hole in the centre of its back through which the young adults emerged.
A further look revealed hundreds of these husks in trees, on walls and on the ground.

We later found an adult cicada with damaged wings near our caravan. While all its companions set up a deafening din in the tops of the trees, this sad specimen seemed confined to the earth.

  This cicada's front left wing is bent across its body and tucked under the right wings. One right wing is creased.  

This particular type of cicada is known as a 'green grocer' because of it's colour. Its life started years ago in the tree tops where its recently-fertilised mother slit the bark on a twig and laid about a dozen eggs. She then moved on to repeat the process again and again until all her eggs were gone.

A few weeks later the eggs hatched and the tiny larvae dropped to earth. Being so small the fall didn't harm them and they burrowed under the leaf mould and searched for a crack in the earth into which they crawled, sometimes descending as far as a metre below the surface. There they live for six or seven years on sap from tree roots. Most of their lives are spent underground where they moult several times as they grow.

When conditions are suitable thousands of the larvae simultaneously dig their way to the surface. How they synchronise their emergence isn't understood but as soon as they reach the surface they head for a nearby tree and climb the trunk. There they pause to discard their final laval skin which clings to the trunk as the new, green adult cicada climbs on up to the tree top. The adult is about four centimetres long with a twelve centimetre wingspan.

The cicadas' aim in life is now to mate. Each male sets up very loud vibrations from its abdomen to attract nearby females. The 'green grocer' cicada is one of the loudest insects in the world. Again the males all act in concert, beginning their chirping together and perhaps an hour later they will simultaneously stop, leaving an eerie silence. Some time later the males will all begin again. Many times we have heard them break into a rhythm: chirp, pause, chirp, pause . . .  The most remarkable aspect of this is that you might be travelling along in a car with the window down and the rhythm remains the same as if thousands of cicadas over a huge area have synchronised their calls.

Cicadas do little damage to trees and are harmless to humans. In fact, they are eaten in some places in the world. I felt quite sorry for the adult in the picture. It had waited seven long years in the dark, sucking on roots, then when the time came for a good old sexual frolic in the tree tops everything went pear-shaped. I placed it on a tree trunk and it came alive, almost running up the trunk. It was soon out of sight.

I found another that had mistakenly climbed the steel pole that supported one of the caravan park's power outlets. As I took it off the pole it fluttered its wings frantically and I dropped it. From watching its performance I don't think these critters can fly - they are quite heavy. Perhaps they can just stagger into the air and let the wind carry them, rather like locusts. Anyway, again I placed it on a tree trunk and up it went without hesitation, clearly programmed to climb. A third one I found upside down on the ground, weakly waving its legs and looking totally exhausted . . . until I placed it on a tree trunk. Up it went to join its pals.

  the Sale swing bridge  

Five kilometres to the south of Sale is a historical bridge which was originally known as the Latrobe Swing Bridge as it spans the Latrobe River about a hundred metres from its junction with the Thomson River. It was designed by a man called John Grainger and built by a Sale contractor in 1880-1883. You've doubtless heard of the Aussie pianist and composer, Percy Grainger. This bridge was designed by his father.

  The 46 metre long main span of the bridge is centrally supported on a turntable resting on eight concrete pillars in the river.  

Although the bridge's central span weighs 130 tonnes it is rotated through 90° by a hand crank. One of the early bridge keepers was a woman, Eliza Ball, and she managed to open the bridge without a problem. Until recently the bridge had been opened weekly but - just our luck - it was closed for repairs while we were in Sale.

  The reduction gearing, glistening with grease, that turns the bridge with a hand crank.  

It wasn't until I looked at the picture (below) that I saw that two of the turntable wheels were missing.

  The bridge is temporally closed for repair. Two of the wheels on which it rotates are missing in this photograph.  

A hundred years ago the river was used to transport cargo on both coastal and lakes steam boats which completed their journey to Sale via the Latrobe River, through the swing bridge, up the Thomson River and then along a canal that was dug - mostly by hand - to carry them the last mile or so into the town, enabling cargo to be transferred directly to rail and making Sale an important port town.

When closed the swing bridge carried road traffic on what is now the South Gippsland Highway over the Latrobe River. When open it allowed boats to pass on either side, to or from Sale. Incidentally, the bridge operator would be stranded until he/she closed it again.

In 1972 one of abutments cracked and jammed the bridge closed to river traffic. Attempts by workers to strap the abutment clear were to no avail and as river transportation had declined in the 1930s, the bridge was allowed to remain stuck for thirty years. However, when a new high level road bridge was opened to take traffic off the swing bridge in 2002, renovation work commenced. It was completed in 2006 at a cost of $1,000,000. But . . . now it's broken again.

The name Latrobe is derived from Charles Joseph La Trobe (1801-1875) who was the Lieutenant Governor of Victoria for three years. La Trobe seems to have become one word somewhere along the line.

The Thomson River, named after Sir Edward of the same name (1800-1879), supplies 60% of Melbourne's water needs from a dam near its source. Thus only half the natural flow continues on down to the Gippsland Lakes which causes great environmental stress downstream.

Above I mentioned that Gippsland was named after Sir George Gipps. Sir George was a very good friend of both La Trobe and Thomson - so there you have it.


The Port of Sale as it is today. The hand-dug canal goes off into the distance on the left to join the Thomson then
the Latrobe River. It accommodates only leisure boats as no commercial freight is sent by water any more.
I can't really imagine a container ship or the "Oriana" sailing up the Latrobe River, can you?

  We found a nice restaurant overlooking the port and decided Happy Hour should start a mite early today.  

I tried to find out whether a spur line had been built to the port from the main railway line - which would seem obvious considering the trouble they had taken to get the boats and their cargo to Sale. Nobody could tell me. Everybody could tell me that a shopping centre had been built on the site of the original railway station and that the old level crossing had been preserved.

  We have the signal box, the signal, the level crossing gates but . . . no tracks. Well done Sale for preserving it all so nicely.  

So we left Sale without finding out whether a line had been run into the port. Does anybody out there know?

  And behind these solid walls lies . . . a large vacant site for sale.  

And so to Bairnsdale . . .